Chicago Police Routinely, 'Systemically' Abused Civil Rights: DOJ

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Chicago Police Routinely, 'Systemically' Abused Civil Rights: DOJ

Bombshell report finds police engaged in pattern of 'unnecessary and avoidable' force, including lethal

The investigation was launched after the fatal police shooting of black 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. (Photo: niXerKG/flickr/cc)

Chicago police systematically violated people's civil rights by routinely using excessive force, particularly against African-Americans and Latinos, according to a bombshell report (pdf) from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) released Friday.

The report is the conclusion of a 13-month investigation into the Chicago Police Department (CPD), launched after the October 2014 police killing of 17-year-old black Chicago resident Laquan McDonald, whose fatal shooting was captured by the patrol car's dashboard camera.

According to the inquiry, police routinely violated the Fourth Amendment by using "unnecessary and avoidable" force, including deadly force, which investigators attributed to poor training and accountability systems.

A fact sheet (pdf) for the report lists the patterns and practices that CPD officers routinely engaged in, including:

  • Shooting at fleeing suspects who presented no immediate threat;
  • Shooting at vehicles without justification;
  • Using less-lethal force, including tasers, against people who pose no threat;
  • Using force to retaliate against and punish individuals; and
  • Using excessive force against juveniles.

Additionally, the report found that the city fails to probe the majority of cases that the law requires them to investigate; officers are routinely let off the hook or rarely confronted with evidence inconsistent with their versions of events; and any discipline that is meted out is "haphazard, unpredictable, and does not deter misconduct."

Announcing the findings, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said that one of her highest priorities in office "has been to ensure that every American enjoys police protection that is lawful, responsive, and transparent. Sadly, our thorough investigation into the Chicago Police Department found that far too many residents of this proud city have not received that kind of policing."

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the DOJ's Civil Rights Division, added, "The failures we identified in our findings—that we heard about from residents and officers alike—have deeply eroded community trust. But today is a moment of opportunity, where we begin to move from identifying problems to developing solutions."

"The systems and policies that fail ordinary citizens also fail the vast majority of Chicago Police Department officers who risk their lives every day to serve and protect the people of Chicago," said Lynch, who had reportedly hurried to complete the investigation before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Among the remedies suggested in the report are requirements for all Chicago officers to wear body cameras by the end of 2017, along with improved deescalation training and a new transparency policy requiring the release of videos or other evidence of misconduct. The city also created a Civilian Office of Police Accountability to replace the Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA).

Federal investigations into city police forces have also taken place in Baltimore; Ferguson, Missouri; Cleveland; and Seattle. All of those cities have at times been the site of high-profile protests against police brutality after unarmed men and women, primarily black, were killed in custody.

The CPD is infamous for its historic civil and human rights abuses. Chicago in 2015 approved a landmark reparations package for survivors of police torture carried out under former commander Jon Burge, while a Guardian investigation that same year revealed that the CPD had secretly detained and abused people at a domestic "black site" known as Homan Square.

"The report issued today by the U. S. Department of Justice confirms what many residents of Chicago have known for years—the system for policing in our city is broken. There can be no debate that it is past time for fundamental reform within Chicago Police Department," said Karen Sheley, director of the ACLU of Illinois Police Practice Project. "Black and Latino Chicagoans face the worst of police misconduct, disproportionately experiencing unconstitutional behavior like excessive use of force. Out-of-date polices and lack of training result in harm for people with disabilities, especially related to mental health, and transgender people."

"Today must be a wake-up call to change how Chicago is policed. There can be no more tinkering around the edges," Sheley said, noting that the city has yet to sign a consent decree with the DOJ. "Given the Trump administration’s announced resistance to police reform, we call on the city to enter an agreement with the Department of Justice now."

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